Loneliness and social isolation can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. The Measuring Loneliness (INTERACT) study aims to map loneliness at borough and city level to highlight the scale of the issue and help decision makers consider new ways to support individuals who are lonely, feeling socially isolated and who may be suffering in silence.

The study is the first of its kind and aims to collect data from thousands of community dwelling individuals aged 16 years or over to produce a visual snapshot of social isolation and loneliness across the capital, and other parts of the UK. Led by Imperial’s School of Public Health, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Hammersmith & Fulham Council, the team will reach out to thousands of residents and encourage them to complete a brief online survey. Responses will help build a clearer picture of how loneliness affects people at borough and city level, and across regions.

The success of the study depends on collaborative working between the local council, voluntary organisations and NHS primary care organisations to reach out to thousands of residents with ethically approved study information to encourage them to complete a brief online survey which is available in various languages. The research is funded by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration NWL.


Taking part in the study

Everyone aged 16 years or over can choose to take part in the study by completing a brief online survey. It is important for us to gain insights from as diverse a range of people as possible. The study plans to recruit from communities, including from schools, libraries, sheltered accommodation, adult education, care homes as well as from GP practices across various boroughs in London and the UK.

The survey is available in multiple languages and should take no longer than ten minutes to complete. It contains questions on aspects relating to social life and interactions, local community, employment, age, and level of education. People can complete the survey anonymously and don’t have to provide personal information, but they will be asked to provide a full postcode which will be used to generate a ‘heat map’ of loneliness and isolation in the area. Respondents can also provide their name and contact if they wish to be contacted for a follow-up. The heat map will be detailed to street level only, not to the level of individual households.

Why was this study developed?

This study was developed in response to UK Government’s Loneliness Strategy, and could provide a template that could be easily rolled out across other cities or internationally.

Loneliness has a significant impact on mental health, life expectancy and quality of life, and we hope that members of the community will help us to capture a snapshot of the issue to better inform interventions and the future direction of research into an important area of study that is often overlooked. Loneliness was particularly highlighted as a result of the national lockdowns and UK’s unified response to tackle the coronavirus pandemic” Dr Austen El-Osta (Study lead).

Heat map of loneliness

In the first phase, the INTERACT study team at Imperial SCARU will work closely with the council, voluntary organisations and NHS primary care organisations to reach out to thousands of residents in London with ethically approved study information to encourage them to complete a brief online survey. NIHR CRN will support GP practices to send an SMS to all eligible patients aged 16 years or over with an invitation to participate in the survey. Although the initial focus will be in gathering data from the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, we would like to follow-up and gather data from other boroughs across the UK, so everyone who has an interest in this study can patriciate by completing the anonymous survey which will also ask for the full post-code.

A key objective of the study is to generate a detailed ‘heat map of loneliness’ at borough and city levels. This new knowledge will help us answer a number of research questions to help us understand if the patterns we observe from measuring loneliness are similar to those derived by using known predictors of loneliness, such as unemployment, living alone and other factors, as well as assessing the impact of the pandemic and national lockdowns. The findings of the study will also be meaningful to commissioners of health & wellbeing who can consider how best to target evidence-based interventions to tackle loneliness. For example, support services can use this information to consider what evidence-based interventions could be offered based on the area in which people live, their communities, and the existing services on offer. This could include mobilising already existing community assets (such as pharmacists or volunteer organisations) and targeted interventions (such as befriending schemes & organised coffee mornings and walks in the park) to support people in need or who may be suffering in silence.